The Michigan Wolverines with newly-named permanent head coach Brandon Naurato are set to take on Quinnipiac this evening in the Frozen Four in pursuit of the program’s first national title appearance since 2011.
Going back to last year’s Regional Final in Allentown, Michigan gleefully skated off the ice and into the Frozen Four after routing Quinnipiac, 7-4, and chasing young freshman goalie Yaniv Perets after only two periods. The Bobcats and Perets are back for revenge against the Wolverines.
Quinnipiac is a veteran-laden team who specializes in defensive execution. Goaltender Perets boasts the second-best save percentage in the nation (.932) and is a finalist for the Mike Richter Award. As a team, the Bobcats lead the country for the second-straight year in scoring defense only allowing 1.54 goals per game.
Similar to last season when the Bobcats only allowed one team — until facing Michigan — to score four or more goals against it, Quinnipiac has only seen three teams reach that number this season.
However, unlike last season, Quinnipiac’s offense has narrowed the gap on its suffocating defense and the team ranks third nationally, only trailing Minnesota and Michigan, respectively. On the year, the Bobcats have six players over the 30-point mark: Collin Graf (20 G, 36 A, 56 PTS), Ethan De Jong (18 G, 21 A, 39 PTS), Sam Lipkin (13 G, 26 A, 39 PTS), Jacob Quillan (16 G, 18 A, 34 PTS), Zach Metsa (8 G, 25 A, 33 PTS), and Skyler Brind’Amour (14 G, 18 A, 32 PTS).
The biggest advantage for the Bobcats against Michigan is they are the least penalized team in college hockey, while the Wolverines are the third-most penalized. In Michigan’s defense, the Wolverines have only committed four penalties in its first two games of the NCAA Tournament, but they need to keep this trend alive to beat Quinnipiac.
Last year, the Bobcats struggled with Michigan’s speed, talent, and just simply looked out-classed on the ice. This year’s version of Michigan features several new names, but the song remains the same with the speed and talent.
The nation’s No. 1 scoring team is led by seven 30-point scorers, headlined by the Hobey Baker frontrunner Adam Fantilli — the likely No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. He has been on a tear this season with 64 points (29 G, 35 A) to lead the nation.
Michigan revamped its top line in the second half of the season and paired Fantilli with Gavin Brindley (12 G, 26 A, 38 PTS) and Rutger McGroarty (18 G, 20 A, 38 PTS) to form one of the nation’s most dominant offensive units in the country.
On the blue line, following a slow start to the season, Luke Hughes has exploded for 47 points (10 G, 37 A) and has played some of the best defensive hockey of his career.
In net, junior Erik Portillo has been up-and-down most of the season, but has found his stride in the NCAA Tournament. Over the last two games, he has stopped 51-of-53 shots (.962) and made several timely saves to keep Michigan alive against Penn State in the Regional Final.
Michigan enters at the peak of its powers. The Wolverines have only lost two games in regulation since Dec. 9. But in single-elimination hockey, only this game matters. Can Michigan do what last year’s team could not? Or will Quinnipiac exact its revenge in pursuit of its program’s third national title?
The winner advances to face the winner of Minnesota/Boston on Saturday night.
WHEN: Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Tampa Bay, FL
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN 2
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network